Research Paper

Xhosa male initiation: Freedom of choice versus the need to belong

  • Rienie Venter


Background: The question of choice and individual decision making in groups where a strong ideology exists has been repeatedly studied and debated. The objective of this paper is to highlight the aspects of influence pertaining to initiation in the life world of the Xhosa boy. The amaXhosa are speakers of Bantu languages traditionally living in south-east South-Africa, and in the last two centuries throughout the southern and central-southern parts of the country.
Method: To substantiate the literature study, a survey in the form of a questionnaire was done to establish the attitudes of Xhosa people regarding traditional male initiation. To gather in-depth information from persons who had personal contact with initiates, interviews were conducted with two selected people in helping professions.
Discussion: The author argues that the traditional custom of male initiation among the amaXhosa rests on an ideology that tolerates no dissent or critique and that deprives individuals of their decisionmaking power. It is further argued that the implication of not undergoing the ritual is so severe for Xhosa boys that the choice they are thought to have may not be a choice in practice.
Conclusion: Questions were raised regarding the role of children and women in general in a patriarchal society. As an example of culture and religion as influencing factors in a group’s reality, Xhosa male initiation was discussed. These arguments call for the raising of questions and identifying themes and discourse in the area of children’s right to choice.
Results: The results indicate that, regardless of physical and psychological implications, the custom in its traditional form is still preferred by most respondents.

Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health 2013, 25(2): 139–147

Author Biography

Rienie Venter
Department of Psychology of Education, College of Education, University of South Africa

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1728-0591
print ISSN: 1728-0583